THE DEATH OF ROSY ROSENTHAL
By John William Tuohy
"The old Metropole. The old Metropole," brooded Mr. Wolfshiem gloomily. "Filled with faces dead and gone. Filled with friends gone now forever. I can't forget so long as I live the night they shot Rosy Rosenthal there. It was six of us at the table, and Rosy had eat and drunk a lot all evening. When it was almost morning the waiter came up to him with a funny look and says somebody wants to speak to him outside. 'all right,' says Rosy, and begins to get up, and I pulled him down in his chair. "'Let the bastards in here if they want you, Rosy, but don't you, so help me, move outside this room.' "It was four o'clock in the morning then, and if we'd of raised the blinds we'd of seen daylight."
"Did he go?" I asked innocently.
‘Sure he went." Mr. Wolfshiem's nose flashed at me indignantly. "He turned around in the door and says: 'Don't let that waiter take away my coffee!' Then he went out on the sidewalk, and they shot him three times in his full belly and drove away."
"Four of them were electrocuted," I said, remembering. "Five,with Becker."
The Great Gatsby
The gangland murder of Rosy Rosenthal, an otherwise irrelevant, smalltime gambler in Manhattan, should have passed into oblivion decades ago, but it hasn't and, in as long as F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s novel captures the imagination of one generation after another the next, Rosy Rosenthal and the Metropole Hotel will live on.
The Rosenthal case, the most important of the Progressive Era in New York, also brought down New York City Police Lieutenant Charles Becker was the first American law enforcement officer policeman executed for murder. The case dragged on for three years, helped to bring down the Tammany machine and brought around a much-needed purge of the New York City Police Department. Whether or not Becker was actually guilty remains, after all these decades, an open question.
A one-time bouncer in a German-American beer hall, Charles Becker, like Arnold Rothstein, another denizen Gatsby, was discovered by political powerhouse Big Tim Sullivan. The irascible but incredibly corrupt Sullivan was a New York City politician who had served a term as a United States Congressman and New York State Senator. He also had close ties to gang leader Monk Eastman who was, arguably, the most feared gang leader Gotham had ever produced.
Becker was brought onto the New York City police force in November of 1893 under Sullivan’s powerful patronage and essentially acted as one of many informers, enforcers and collectors for Sullivan and occasionally for Eastman, should he require a policemen’s service.
Becker proved to be a bad apple from the very start of his law enforcement career. In 1896, he made unwelcomed headlines when he arrested a woman named Ruby Young for prostitution. It was a false arrest, even though Young was an admitted prostitute. Extorting tribute from streetwalkers was common for corrupt cops in their salad days. Most of the women simply paid because their word would never stand up in court against the word of a foot patrolman. However, on that day, Ruby Young was not plying her trade and refused to pay Becker, who promptly arrested her.
Unknown to Becker, the man accompanying Ruby Young through the streets that day was author Stephan Crane, then a Hearst's New York Journal news reporter. Crane, who would write classic novel, The Red Badge of Courage, had previously written another book call 'Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, which was the story of the struggles that forced a young Irish immigrant into the world of prostitution. Crane had been interviewing Ruby Young for a follow up story when Becker arrested her.
Crane testified in court that Becker had tried to extort money from Ruby, who refused to pay and was locked up. Magistrate Robert C. Cornell released her immediately, yet, remarkably, Becker, despite the next day's headlines and because of his connection with Big Time Sullivan, went unpunished.
The next year Becker mistakenly shot and killed an innocent citizen while chasing a man Becker claimed was a burglar. He tried to cover his mistake by accusing the dead citizen of being part of the burglar's gang. When the truth was uncovered and Becker was proven to have made the story up, he was given a three-day suspension for lying to a supervisor.
"Becker" said a cop from his precinct "would raid his own crippled grandmother if he thought it would make him look good at headquarters." As an example of that mentality, in 1904, Becker was a warded a medal for heroism for leaping into the North River and saving a man named James Butler from drowning. Two years later, it was revealed that Becker had promised to pay Butler, who considered himself an ‘expert swimmer’, to jump in the river so Becker could save him. The reason Butler stepped forward and told his story was that Becker refused to pay him the $15.00 he had promised him for leaping into the frozen waters. Again. thanks in large part to Big Tim Sullivan’s protection, Becker went unpunished.
Over the next few years, Becker would be investigated several times for brutality and false arrest, but in each case, the charges were dropped or Becker walked away unharmed. In 1906, Becker, now a sergeant, was placed in charge of a politically motivated special unit working out of police headquarters to probe allegations of corruption against Police Inspector Max Schmittberger. Becker’s orders were clear, if he could not find or verify corruption charges against Schmittberger, he was to create them against the Inspector's whose only true crime was giving truthful but damaging testimony to the 1894 Lexow Committee, which was investigating criminal corruption within the New York City Police Department.
Becker did his job. Based on evidence Becker either collected or manufactured, or both, Inspector Schmittberger was convicted of corruption and removed from the force. A thankful Deputy Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo, the driving force behind the Get-Schmittberger squad, rewarded Becker by making sure he became the bagman, the bribe collector, for a precinct captain. Like all bagmen in the city, Becker received ten percent of the gross of the graft he collected. It was a very lucrative promotion that brought the cop $80,000 in his first year on the job.
When Rhinelander Waldo became Police Commissioner in 1911, he promoted Becker again, the rank of Lieutenant and appointment to head an anti-vice squad whose sole assignment was to break apart the massive street gangs that controlled lower Manhattan. He was ordered to start with Times Square, then officially known as Longacre Square but also called the Tenderloin, an area that extended from 23rd Street to 42nd Street and by Fifth and Seventh Avenues.
The area, which is now encompasses the Garment district and Chelsea, was a haven for prostitutes and thieves. City Hall gave Becker was given carte blanche to clean the area up. If he needed to crack skulls, he could. He could close down what he ever business he wanted, whenever he wanted, without reason or cause.
He and his men, the so-called Broadway Squad, corralled prostitution in the area and pushed an estimated 30,000 streetwalkers across town, further away from Times Square. The pickpocket and petty thieves followed. All that was left were the gambling houses, which were tolerated by City Hall in so long as they paid a hefty tribute to Tammany Hall and caused no problems. So many all night gambling houses popped up along Forty-Second Street the area became known as ‘The roaring Forties’ although by 1920, the first year of prohibition, they were virtually all gone, replaced by speakeasies.
For a man like Becker, who had no natural moral or ethical stops, the power to extort money from the gamblers was virtually a license to print money. He extorted hundreds of thousands for Tammany Hall and a small fortune for himself. Although his salary was less than $183.00 a month, Becker had managed to save over $70,000 in 1912 alone.
Although he a had a reputation as a brutal and completely corrupt cop, Becker, 40 year old at the time, was known by his superiors as highly intelligent and disciplined. He neither drank nor smoked and by all accounts was loyal to his wife, the former Helen Lynch, a special needs schoolteacher who was pregnant with the couple’s second child. But he was, at his base a hustler and ambitious overachiever who grew increasingly corrupt and arrogant with every passing day.
Becker subcontracted extortion payment collections to an interesting hood named Jacob Zelig (born Zelig Harry Lefkowitz ) leader of the Eastman gang, the same gang had graduated Al Capone and Chicago boss Johnny Torrio. Zelig "the most feared man in New York," had taken over Eastman's after Monk Eastman was sent to Sing Sing in 1904 on a simple robbery charge.
Since then, the once mighty Eastman’s membership had dropped from1200 members to roughly one hundred. But when the highly volatile and very unstable Eastman was released from prison, he was banned by the gang’s leadership from returning to power over the outfit that bore his name.
Instead, Jake Zelig, a pickpocket who was less insane and more businesslike then Monk Eastman, took over and started to rebuild the gang to its former glory. Busy with those duties, he handed Lieutenant Becker's collection chores over to his enforcers, Harry 'The gyp' Horowitz, Lefty Louie, Dago Frank and Whitey Lewis.
Things were going well Becker until a obese, glitzy character named Herman 'Beanie' Rosenthal decided to open a small casino in the middle of Becker’s territory. Herman Rosenthal was born in the Baltic provinces of Russia and arrived in New York as a child of five, in 1879, and settled in the East Side Jewish neighborhoods. Leaving home at age 14, he was a runner in a poolroom and eventually he too fell under the spell of Big Tim Sullivan.
He eventually became a bookie and in 1909 opened a gambling den at 123 Second Avenue and 39 East Seventh Street, which was in direct competition a ring of highly connected hoods that used his influence to have Rosenthal's place raided and shut down. He reopened in Far Rockaway but again found himself in competition with organized gamblers who had his casino raided and closed by the District Attorney's police.
He relocated again, this time in a brownstone at 104 West Forty Fifth Street. The casino was in the buildings basement and Rosenthal and his wife lived upstairs. Compared to the dozens of gambling dens that surrounded his, Rosenthal’s operation was small but respectable for the money it brought in and soon came to Becker’s attention.
A few days after Rosenthal opened shop in the Roaring Forties, Lt. Becker strolled in informed Rosenthal that he was now a 20% partner in the casino and that every now and then, he would have to conduct a false raid on the place and arrest a few customers to make the District Attorney happy. Also, as part of the required protection package, Rosenthal was told to bring in a character named Baldy Jack Rose, said to be the best poker player in New York, as a partner in the casino.
Rose came across his nickname Baldy because a bout with typhoid had left him hairless, including eyebrows and lashes. Added to his oddness was the fact that he was overtly feminine in his speech and manner.
Baldy Jack would watch over Sullivan and Becker's shares. Rose, born Jacob Rosenzweig, was Becker's primary collector and front man in his illegal activities around the Times Square area. A professional card dealer and police informant, Rose took a 25% cut the $600,000 a year he collected for Becker. Rose and Becker were also reportedly partners in a loan sharking business.
On the first night of operation, a gambler named John Freeman dropped $6000 in the casino and Rosenthal promptly pocketed $2,800. Baldy Jack demanded that he put the money back in the casino account but Rosenthal refused. There was an argument and Rosenthal tossed Baldy Jack off the property. A few hours later, Becker called and arranged a meeting to meet Rosenthal the next day at Pabst's, a saloon on Fifty-Ninth Street and Broadway.
The next day Rosenthal went to Pabst's and waited but Becker never showed up. Returning to home, he found his casino turned upside down the result of a raid by Becker's squad who had
smashed and broken everything. After they had wrecked the place, Becker told Rosenthal’s wife "You tell Herman he and I are even now.”
To Becker's amazement, Rosenthal refused to be extorted. He simply refused to pay.
Becker responded by placing a patrolman inside the house and another outside the front door on the stoop to keep customers away. Remarkably, Rosenthal went to court and asked the judge to order Becker to remove his men on the grounds that they were depriving him of his income. Understandably, the judge refused the request to remove the policemen so Rosenthal could break the law.
Completely frustrated, Rosenthal filed a complaint with the authorities, and launched a public relations campaign against Becker. He gave an interview to The World newspaper and said' There is only one man the world who can call me off, that is the big fellow, Big Tim Sullivan, and he is as honest as the day is long and I know he is in sympathy with me. He don't want to see anybody hurt. My fight is with the police. It is purely personal with me. I am making no crusade and my friends know all about it. I am not going to hurt anyone else, and if I can't go through with this without bringing anyone else in, I'll quit. '
Rosenthal also arranged a press conference at his casino, where he locked in the policeman who was stationed in his lobby and refused to left him out. The cops responded by breaking down the door which allowed Rosenthal’s lawyers to sue on a federal level since Rosenthal was claiming the casino was also his home and therefore the police had entered without a warrant or due cause.
The reporters printed the story about the kidnapped cop, but would not print Rosenthal’s accusations that Police Lieutenant Becker was on the take to the tune of $10 thousand a month from the areas gamblers. However, there was enough scuttlebutt going around the city to require the District Attorney Charles Whitman, the grandfather to husband of New Jersey Governor Christy Todd Whitman, to return from his vacation in Newport Rhode Island and address the situation. The first thing Whitman did was to agree to meet with Rosy Rosenthal and listen to his accusations.
Rosenthal was treading in dangerous territory. That same year, a gambler named McAuliffe testified about gamblers graft to the police. He was arrested, locked in a cell and beaten to death with nightsticks. The gambling community had already closed ranks on Rosenthal and encouraged their best customers to avoid him and Becker, who found out that Rosenthal intended to meet with the DA, had already sent word out on the street that “Nothing can happen to anyone who croaks Rosenthal.” Yet, despite it all, Rosenthal almost seemed to be enjoying himself; he certainly enjoyed attention he was getting.
A day later, Becker met Baldy Jack Rose at the Union Square Hotel at a table behind the newsstand where Rose usually collected Becker’s graft. There, Becker said “This fellow Rosenthal means to do all he said he would do. All he set out to do to expose me and that I am his partner and that I am a grafter and that he is going to show me up and break me. Here I am in charge of the strong-arm squad and instead of getting money from that fellow, I give him money. I protected that place and looked after him and here is the gratitude, he’s looking for my scalp”
Rose said that he suggested that he speak to gambling community about the problem and have them apply pressure on Rosenthal as a favor to Becker and that Becker exploded “Do you think I would let anybody go to anybody and ask Rosenthal to let up on me? You don’t know me!”
Big Tim Sullivan was the recognized arbitrator of such disagreements. Meeting Becker and Baldy Jack Rose at a theater he owned on Broadway, Sullivan suggested buying Rosenthal’s silence until the problem between him and Becker could be worked out.
Later, and probably without Becker knowing it, Sullivan gave Baldy Jack Rose $6,000 in cash to give to Rosenthal. At this point, Baldy Jack may have set the crime in motion to have Rosenthal murdered, pocket the $6,000 in cash and have Becker take the blame for the killing.
A week after the meeting with Becker and Rose, Sullivan, who suffered from untreated
Syphilis became delusional and paranoid. At the urging of his family, he was judged mentally incompetent and committed to a private hospital.
Becker told Rose to visit gang leader Big Jack Zelig and find out of he was interested in taking over the contract to kill Rosenthal. At the time, Zelig was jailed in New York’s prison, the infamous Tombs. He had been jailed several weeks before on a gun charge. During the arrest, which happened in a saloon he owned, Zelig shouted out to the forty customers in the place to note that he was being arrested for illegal possession of a deadly weapon and then threw his arms in the arm to demonstrate that he was not carrying weapon. It didn’t matter. But the time he arrived at the station house, a pistol appeared from thin air and was booked on the charge. Baldy Jack Rose visited Zelig at the Tombs and asked for his help in the Rosenthal situation but Zelig refused to help unless Becker helped him get out of jail, to which Becker replied “Then let him rot in the Tombs, who needs him?”
Perhaps at Zelig’s urging, Rose talked two of Zelig’s gang members, Lefty Louie and Whitey Louis, an opium addict, and told them that they would more than likely be arrested by members of Becker’s Broadway Squad the next morning for carrying concealed weapons. Lefty Louis responded, “We don’t carry them no more since the trouble with Zelig” to which Rose answered, “Well it don’t make no difference. Zelig didn’t have one on him either” implying that Becker’s men would plant the guns on them of they had too.
When a day went by and Rosenthal was still alive, Becker asked Rose, “What is the matter with that job? Rosenthal is still around. I see him every night as big as life” When Baldy Rose explained that he had to proceed carefully, Becker yelled “I told you, there is nothing to fear. Shoot him in front of a cop if you have too. Nothing will happen to you”
When the murder didn’t happen that night, Becker figured that Baldy Jack Rose had been lying about finding someone to assassinate Rosenthal. Becker took his business to Bridgey Webber.
Louis William Webber, known as Bridgey Webber, was drug dealer and avowed enemy of Rosenthal's. Webber earned his nickname simply because he lived with an Irish immigrant named Bridget who ran his opium den on Pell Street.
The animosities between Rosenthal and Webber went back several years. One of Rosenthal's collectors and casino bouncers was the murderous John Lewis, better known in the annals of organized crime as Spanish Louie (Lewis was a Sephardic Jew, hence the nickname).
On one occasion, Rosenthal sent Spanish Louie to wreck one of Bridgey Webbers casinos and put it out of business so Rosenthal could steal his customers. To the shock of the underworld, Webber actually filed a criminal complaint against Spanish Louie and forced Rosenthal to pay Webber $900 in damages.
Several days later, Spanish Louie attacked Webber and his live-in girlfriend Bridget, and beat them both with a blackjack. For revenge, Webber paid Big Jake Zelig to send a crew, made up of Whitey Lewis, Gyp the Blood and Lefty Louis Rosenthal, to return the beating to Spanish Louie. No one knows exactly what happened, but Spanish Louie ended up shot to death.
Webber organized a meeting at the Lafayette Baths with Becker, Dago Frank Cirofici, Harry Vallon, Lefty Louis and Baldy Jack Rose. At the meeting, one of the bathes employees named James Marshal later testified that he heard Becker say, “If that bastard Rosenthal isn’t croaked, I will croak him myself” Marshal, who would testify for the prosecution in Becker’s trial, was a minor criminal with a record for illegal gambling, something that was not brought out during his testimony.
It was agreed that they would be paid, by Webber, $250 each for killing Rosy Rosenthal.
Later, Becker took the men to a Chinese restaurant when word reached them that Rosenthal and his wife were dinning a few doors away at the Garden Restaurant. Becker went to see for himself but was certain that Rosenthal was being protected by armed private detectives and called the shooting off for another day.
On the night of July 15, 1912, Rosenthal was interviewed by District Attorney Charles Whitman. Rosenthal left the meeting at about 10:30 p.m. with the comment "You'll find me dead one of these days and you'll probably find they've planted a gun on me. They’ll get me for sure,” Whitman, laughed the remark off and told Rosenthal that he had nothing to worry about.
“Oh you can laugh it off” Rosenthal replied, “But I know what I am talking about. I don’t mean to say that a patrolman in uniform will step up and put a bullet in me. They don’t do things that way, but they do have ways of their own and they get to me”
Before they parted, Whitman advised Rosenthal that his charges were huge and he would need a witness. Rosenthal offered his wife as his witness and Whitman agreed to met them the next morning at 8:00 AM at Whitman’s home at 37 Madison Avenue. The DA assured Rosenthal that if the gamblers wife cooberated his story, he would convene a Grand Jury by noon that day.
At 11:00 PM, Rosenthal was home when he received a message to meet someone, he would not tell his wife who it was, at the Metropole Hotel down the block from his house, although the call probably came from Baldy Jack Rose who probably told him that Becker wanted to met him privately to solve their differences.
Rosenthal dressed in a black suit with a black and red stripped shirt with yellow buttons, and walked to the Metropole, arriving there at about 1:00 AM. “I tried to persuade him to stay home” Rosenthal’s wife said, “I tried all day to persuade him to get away but he laughed at my fears and went out tonight against my wishes that he stay here in the house where was safe”
The Metropole, which was set to close in six days due to bankruptcy, was located at Broadway and 42nd Street and only feet from Times Square, was secretly owned by Big Tim Sullivan and fronted for him by a pair of gamblers named Jim and George F. Considine, friends of Arnold Rothstein. George Considine had once managed the careers of heavy weight champ James J. Corbitt and fighter Kid McCoy. The partnership also owned the Miner's Theatre on the Bowery, a saloon on 6th Avenue and the infamous Lobster Palace.
A tiny property, only 60 by 100 feet and six stories high, was less than fifty yards from the center of Times Square. It held a much sought after 24-hour drinking license, complimented by an all night dining room, kept it filled constantly with a variety of interesting and quirky Manhattan night owls, causing composer Cole Porter to immortalize it in his song Ace in the Hole;
This town is full of guys who think they're mighty wise,
just because they know a thing or two.
You'll meet them night and day, strollin' up and down Broadway
telling of the wonders they can do.
There's con men and there's boosters.
There's card sharks and crapshooters.
They congregate around the Metropole
That night, a Hungarian Band played the Turkey Trot. Every light in the room was on and enormous electric fans blew a pleasant breeze across the room. When Rosenthal walked into the
Dinning room, other gamblers lowered their heads and walked out. No one wanted to be seen talking to Rosenthal.
Carrying a late edition newspaper, Rosenthal walked to the back of the cafe took a table for four and ordered a Horses Neck, bourbon, a twist of lemon and a ginger ale, and three large Havana cigars. A while later he was joined by gamblers 'Boob' Walker, an occasional bodyguard for Bridgey Weber, 'Butch' Kitti and 'Fat Moe' Brown.
It was a chokingly humid night. Rosenthal told the men he was waiting for a reporter with the New York World newspaper, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Herbert Bayard Swope, the same reporter who would later coin the term 'cold war'. Rosenthal said that he had promised Swope 'the story of a the century'.
A few minutes before 2 A.M, the group ordered a pot of coffee and watched as Bridgey Webber strolled into the café and walking past Rosenthal’s table said “Hello Herman”. Rosenthal was probably taken aback by Bridgey's plesant tone, since Rosenthal had, after all, once paid to have the narcotics dealer killed. Regardless, that evening he waved and answered back "Hello Bridge".
Webber strolled out of the cafe as quickly as he entered and took a seat in the lobby next to Harry Vallon, an opium dealer from Chinatown. Vallon and Webber were partners in a lucrative poker room at the northwest comer of Forty-Second Street and Sixth Avenue. They were also partners with Becker in several 'Struss' houses, Stuss being a simplified version of faro. Standing next to Vallon was Lefty Louise. Webber told them “Rosenthal’s inside now.” And pointed him out since none of the gunmen knew what Rosenthal looked like. To be sure, they knew Rosenthal on sight, Vallon flagged a waited and sent him to Rosy Rosenthal’s table. The waiter approached Rosenthal and said loudly “Herman, someone wants to see you outside”. At that, Lefty Louise walked outside and said, “The squealer is on his way out”
The killers were out on the sidewalk. Lefty Louie Rosenberg 23, was one of the shooters. The other gunman was Sam Schepps, an opium dealer described by police as "intelligent, a smooth talker, neatly dressed, considerable jewelry, constant frequenter of theatres, associate of sporting men, vaudeville actors, etc., accustomed to good living, spending much time in Turkish baths, and an incessant cigarette smoker." Schepps was essentially a flunky for Baldy Jack Rose.
Another member of the hit team was “Dago Frank” Cirofici, "one of the toughest men in the world". Suspected in at least six murders since 1900, and considered dangerous and unpredictable even in his own circles, Cirofici worked mostly as a stick up artist and killer for Big Jake Zelig. Cirofici's girlfriend, known only as Dutch Sadie, carried a butcher's knife in her belt and worked with her boyfriend on the occasionally mugging.
All of them were members of the Lenox Avenue Gang, of which Harry the gyp Horowitz, was the nominal leader. The gang was started in or about 1900 and was made up essentially of pickpockets and burglars, and they answered, indirectly, to Jake Zelig, leader of the dominant Eastman gang.
A Cuban cigar in hand and a newspaper under his arm, Rosenthal walked across the lobby, past the enormous potted palms, and out the front door. Harry Vallon said "Over here Beansie!" and then three shots rang out. Although there were three men with pistols, only one, Lefty Louie Rosenberg, was firing. He shot high. The first bullet had missed and buried itself in the hotel large wooden doorframe. A second struck Rosenthal in the face, passed through his right cheek and shattered most of his teeth. A fragment landed in His neck and the third entered his skull. The killers were so close when they fired that Rosenthal's face was burned by the muzzle flash. 'gotcha!' one of the murderers cried out. Rosenthal was thrown backwards and then, with his hands covering his face, down on to the sidewalk.
The gunmen’s car swung up to the sidewalk, the killers leaped in and the car, driven by
Billy Shapiro, age 20, who worked as a collector for Becker, disappeared. An off duty policeman Billy File, a former sparring partner for Gentleman Jim Corbett who had recently been reduced in rank from Detective to Patrolman for lying to the District Attorney, was in the hotel, probably as a plant by Becker. File said he rushed out onto the sidewalk and drawing his pistol, flagged down a nearby cab and with a patrolman named Brady, gave chase to the fleeing killers. However, District Attorney Whitman later classified File chase as “Little more than a pretense of pursuit” Among other things, File gave the investigating officers the wrong license plate number but DA Whitman, who had arrived on the scene, had the correct plate number, NY 41313. Officer and the cab driver had made a note of it.
A crowd rushed out of the Metropole and dozen of people scurried over from Times Square just in time to watch a man in a hat, probably Baldy Jack Rose, step casually over the body, bend down and say loudly "Hello Herman" and then straightening up he smiled and said "Goodbye Herman" and then disappeared into the unusually humid night.
The first reporter on the scene was Alexander Humphreys Woollcott who was then covering the police beat for the New York Times. Woollcott, the inspiration for Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came To Dinner, would go on to help form the infamous Algonquin Round Table and write theater reviews for the paper.
Years later, Woollcott, who, as a crime reporter, had certainly seen his share of murder victims, wrote 'I shall always remember the picture of that soft, fat body wilting on the sidewalk and I shall always remember the fish-belly faces of the sibilant crowd which, sprung in a twinkling from where formed like a clot around those clamorous wounds. Just behind me an old-time whispered a comment, which I have had more than one occasion to repeat. "From where I stand, " he said, "I can see eight murderers. "
It was chaos out on the street. A crowd of about one hundred trampled close to the body until Jimmy Considine, Big Tim’s front man in the Metropole, had a waiter cover the corpse with a table clothe. An ambulance arrived twenty minutes after the shooting, but the attendants concluded that Rosenthal, whose brain was mostly on the sidewalk, was probably dead before he hit the ground. A Doctor named Holmer who lived near by arrived on the scene, and without bending over to inspect what was left of Rosy Rosenthal’s skull, declared him dead. A man called out form the crowd “Well he got his” causing several dozen people to laugh at loud
Shapiro dropped the gunmen off at the corner of Forty-Ninth and 3rd Avenue and then returned the car to its garage in Washington Square. Bridgey Webber and Baldy Jack Rose met Becker outside the Murray Hills Bathes. “I congratulate you” Becker is supposed to have said to them “It was a good job. I was at the station house (After Rosenthal’s Body was brought in) and I saw Rosenthal there and I felt like taking my knife, reaching down and cutting his tongue out and hanging it up as a warning to squealers”
With the correct license plate, the police tracked down the car and established that the same car had been used during a drive by shooting of gangster Jack Sirocco's café the week before. That alone should have tipped off the police that Jack Zelig was tied into the murder, at least in some way. In 1911, Sirocco left a wounded Jack Zelig behind during a failed bank robbery. He also refused to post bail for Zelig and then tried to take over the Eastman gang. But, Zelig, using his substantial political connection had the charges and walked free. Next, Sirocco sent an assassin to murder Zelig but the plot was found out and instead Zelig murdered the assassin in December of 1911. The power struggle went back and fourth until Zelig’s death in the fall of 1912.
The cops arrested the cars owner, Louis Libby, and dragged him from his bed down to police headquarters for what a New York Times reporter called “intense third degree questioning”. Minutes after the questioning began, Libby named his friend Billy Shapiro, as the driver who sped away from the murder scene with the killers.
A squad of police tracked down Shapiro and, finding him, interrogated him. “If the grilling of Libby was stiff” the Times wrote “there were no words to describe the cross examination through which (the police) put Libby’s partner” But Shapiro would not cooperate.
The murder and Rosenthal's talk with the DA and the tie in to Becker, was splashed across the morning papers and City Hall was forced to do something. Charles Becker was arrested for Herman Rosenthal’s murder on July 29. The arrest came largely on the testimony of Baldy Jack Rose.
After being deeply implicated in the Rosenthal killing, Baldy Jack Rose turned himself in
Directly to the District Attorney and promptly worked a deal to save his own life. He informed on everyone, telling the police where they Shapiro was hiding. In turn, after his arrest, Shapiro, who denied any complicity in the killing, started to cooperate as well.
In the mean time, the DA’s case was slowly being sabotaged by Becker’s friend on the Police Department, to some degree to protect Becker but also to protect the department as a whole. It was just a matter of time, DA Whitman figured, before another one of his witnesses in the case, or even Becker himself, was found dead.
Frantic to save his case, Whitman started to cut deals in exchange for information. Without conferring with his staff, he offered Rose, Webber, Vallon and Shapiro immunity for cooperation. They all leaped at the deal. Shapiro confessed that he drove the car to the Metropole and identified the killers as Louis “Lefty” Rosenberg, Frank “Dago Frank” Cirofici, Jacob “Whitey Lewis” Seidenschmer and Harry “Gyp the Blood” Horowitz. Baldy Rose gave up Becker and squarely pinned every aspect of the murder in Becker’s camp.
Rose testified that Becker told him "He (Rosenthal) ought to be put off this earth. There is a fellow I would like to have croaked! Have him murdered! Cut his throat, dynamite him or anything!"
Further, Rose said, that on Becker's request he called on Gyp the Blood and Whitey Lewis who in turn recruited Lefty Louie and Dago Frank and that he paid them $1,000 total for the murder. Why Becker, a hands-on manger who had enormous contacts throughout the underworld, would need a minor hood like Rose to carry off the murder is unknown.
To a large degree, Becker indicted himself when he said that on his way to his home to 165th street in the Bronx, he had driven down Fifth Avenue and across Broadway and passed by the Metropole Hotel at about 1:50 and that he was home by 2:05 when Rosenthal was killed.
There was a substantial number of people who believed that although was certainly guilty of many things, he was guilty of ordering Rosenthal’s murder. The theory is that Rosenthal's testimony would harm the street level hustlers more than it would harm Becker, and in that, Becker simply allowed the politically ambitious District Attorney Whitman, according to this theory, was fully aware that Becker was technically innocent, but saw that a conviction of corrected murdering cop would get him more political influence. And it did. Whitman was eventually elected Governor of the state.
A second theory is that although Rosenthal met with the District Attorney Charles Whitman, apparently he did not provide him with much information. Perhaps the initial meeting was intended only to send a message to Becker to back off. Most who knew Rosenthal agreed that he did not intend to give up his life to avenge an increase in protection money.
Instead, they suspected that Rosenthal was actually shaking Becker down for $15,000 in cash and a promise to leave town. The reason he walked back to Metropole that evening was to meet Becker who had agreed to payoff. Although it is widely doubted, Mrs. Rosenthal later alleged that her husband had gone to the Metropole to keep an appointment with Charles Becker. However, she refused to testify to that information in court.
In the mean time, the underworld and segments of the police department and City Hall shook in fear. The late night murder of an otherwise unknown common gambler had attracted the worlds attention. Casino owners, fearing the worst, packed up their equipment and moved out of the city. Others wondered what would happen next. Becker and Baldy Jack Rose knew plenty about the system of pay and play. If they talked, the very foundation of the city would be rocked. The daylight murder of Jack Zelig proved the point.
The prosecutions case largely rested on the cooberating testimony of gang leader Big Jake Zelig who was spotted by several people, including at least two policemen, talking with Baldy Jack Rose at the corner of 29th and Third Avenue just minutes before the murder. But, on the evening of October 4, 1912, from the prison where he was being held in protective custody, Baldy Jack Rose told the state prosecutor “Zelig will never live to see the trial start. Watch. He’ll be the next one they get” And he was right. Four hours later and one day before he was to testify at the Rosenthal murder trial, Big Jake Zelig was at a party when Philip "Red Phil" Davidson, a Russian immigrant, kidnapper and pimp either accidentally pushed Zelig or bumped into him on purpose, which led to a minor altercation. The following day, during a card game at Segal's Cafe, Davidson began pestering Zelig who then slapped Davidson and then threw him out of the saloon.
Several hours later, as Zelig boarded a streetcar, Davis said he walked up behind him and fired off a round into the back of his head, killing him. There were no witnesses. Captured a few moments later, Davidson said that he killed Zelig because he had no choice. He claimed that he been kidnapped and beaten by hoods who wanted Zelig dead so they could keep him form testifying at the Rosenthal murder trial.
Virtually no one believed his story. It is more likely that Zelig’s enemies in gangland murdered him and arranged for Davidson to take the fall. The Russian pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and served 12 years of a 20 years sentence in Sing Sing in upstate New York.
Jake Zelig was the last leader of the last massive street gangs that roamed and to a degree, ruled the streets of lower Manhattan. After Zelig’s murder, the once mighty Eastman gang crumbled, a dinosaur that had outlived its time. The Lennox Avenue Gang also ceased to exist.
Becker’s guilty conviction in his orginal trial was overturned on the ground that the trial judge, John Goff, the Fenian Hero, had been biased against Becker. However, a retrial in 1914, reaffirmed the 1912 conviction.
A crafty defense lawyer probably could have kept Becker out of the electric chair, but after the jury learned that the cop was pocketing 20 times his annual salary in graft, they reasoned that he would probably commit murder to protect his income. He was found guilty and sentenced to death at Sing Sing prison. While on death row, Becker earned the respect of his fellow prisoners, many of whom were illiterate, by reading cowboy stories aloud to them while they passed away the hours.
Following Becker's conviction, Judge Goff sentenced Gyp the Blood Horowitz, Lefty Rosenberg, Dago Frank Cirofici and Whitey Lewis Seidenschmer to death in the electric chair as well. On April 14, 1914, the four of them were executed at Sing Sing prison.
Before he was executed, Dago Frank Cirofici told a reporter “So far as I know, Becker had nothing to do with the case. It was a gambler’s fight. I told some lies on the stand to prove an alibi for the rest of the boys.” That November, former New York District Attorney Charles Whitman was elected Governor of New York, largely on the fame he gained from the Rosenthal case.
On July 30, 1915 at 5:30, Becker became the first American police officer executed by capitol punishment for murder. When asked if he would appeal or ask the governor for leniency, Becker said defiantly “I’ll not ask for any quarter. I will not appeal to Whitman. I am ready to meet my maker”
An appeal would have been pointless anyway. Becker’s wife had already made an appeal, in person, to Governor Whitman who turned her down with the words “My real sorrow is for you and your child”
The larger question was how could Whitman decide on the issue in any fair way? He was, after all, the prosecutor brought helped to find Becker guilty and see him given the death sentence. Some in the state house suggested that the Governor could not make a fair decision regarding clemency and should have turned Becker’s case over to the Lieutenant Governor but Whitman refused to cooperate.
Charles Becker’s final words were "Into thy hands 0 Lord, I commend my spirit." Unfortunately, for Becker and the reporters brought in to witness the execution, the first jolt of electricity did not kill him. Nor did the second jolt. It was gruesome to watch. Finally, eight minutes after the first jolt, the third jolt killed him.
In August of 1912, Big Tim Sullivan, the fierce political boss who started the careers of both Becker and Rosenthal, was being held in a Bronx mental asylum by order of the court. He bribed his orderlies and escaped to the outside for several hours of freedom before he died, apparently
of natural causes. His body was found sprawled across railroad track, nearly severed in half when a train on the old New Haven Line inadvertently ran it over.
Because the orderlies had failed to report him as missing, Sullivan's body went unclaimed and he was scheduled for a pauper's grave in Potters Field, until it was recognized by an off duty policeman.
Over 25, 0000 people attended his wake and funeral. He was the last of the Tammany Wild Cats and his death marked the end of the organization, which limped along for another twenty-five years before it collapsed.
Bridgey Webber would spend the rest of his life certain that Charlie Becker’s friends were going to kill. He changed his name, fled to Cuba for a while, and finally settled in Northern New Jersey where he opened a successful box-manufacturing firm, the Garfield Paper Company. He died suddenly of peritonitis at age 59.
Sam Paul, who paid for Rosy Rosenthal’s funeral, and was probably the brains behind the murder of Rosy Rosenthal, died of natural cause’s in1927. The target of ceaseless arrests and raids by the police, who were also certain he had framed Becker for Rosenthal’s murder, by the time Paul died his tiny empire of pool halls, dinners, cafes and strip joints were long gone.
Gunman Sam Schepps was arrested for forgery in 1933. He was convicted and sent to prison. Upon his release, he became a prosperous jewelry and antique dealer. He died in 1936. Harry Vallon, one of the men who fired shots into Rosy Rosenthal, was reported to be living under an alias in Pittsburgh in 1915. After that, he disappeared into oblivion.
Baldy Jack Rose, made famous by the case, bought a wing and went on the speaking circuit lecturing on the evils of gambling. He died in Bridgeport Connecticut in 1947 at age 72.
Rosy Rosenthal’s wife made a series of bad investments and died bankrupt in September of 1928. She had tried to organize the Midtown gamblers into refusing to pay protection but her efforts failed.
Charles Becker’s wife had a plague nailed on her husband’s coffin that read “Charles Becker, Murdered July 30, 1915 by Governor Whitman’. It was removed as libelous by the District Attorney’s police.
The Becker’s son infant son, Howard, went on to become a university professor and sociologist of some note. Their daughter, Charlotte Becker, conceived shortly before Charles Becker’s arrest, died in 1913 less than a day after her birth. She is buried alongside her father at Woodlawn Cemetery
A few months after the Rosenthal murder, the Considine Brothers sold their interest in the Metropole hotel and went into business with Arnold Rothstein as financial backers of a massive gambling house known as the Holley Arms Hotel on Long Island. The Metropole was dying anyway. The Times Square neighborhood was changing rapidly and the Rosenthal murder at the hotels footsteps kept the denizens of the Roaring Forties away in droves. The hotel closed and went for a while and eventually reopened the Yates Hotel. In 2008, the property reopened as Rosoff’s hotel, a former halfway house for former convicts.